Smart Social Gaming: Why people play social games and other topics non-gamers don’t get


While those of us who write for MassivelyOP do try give you all the scientific resources we can to help you fight back against your family, friends, and co-workers who may still not get your hobby or why you may let your child participate in gaming culture, it’s not our primary function – that’d be covering and analyzing the MMO genre.

Enter, an “online resource that provides guidance, tips and expert advice for everyone to have a positive social games experience.” While I’d normally smirk and wonder who really thinks he or she has the clout to do something like that, in digging through it I found that Dr. Rachel Kowert, of The Video Game Debate fame, penned several of the top tips, including one that starts off using Quantic Foundry’s Gamer Motivation Model. That’s some clout. Let’s take a look!

Most of what Dr. Kowert writes isn’t immediately surprising for your average gamer. Of course many players enjoy social games for social and psychological fulfillment, even if those aren’t the exact words we’d normally use. However, not everyone outside of our gaming sphere understands this. When an older member of my Pokemon Go group mentioned playing various MMOs with his son and son’s friends all deployed to various parts of the word, other people in our group were fairly surprised at how obvious the choice was to get into online gaming: Online games granted him the ability to chat with people around the world quite cheaply.

Kowert also brings up the Self Determination Theory (SDT), which some of you may recall from our coverage of The Video Game Debate’s chapter on Moral Panic and how it relates to griefing. The ability to master a game’s systems, achieve a sense of independence, and connect with others are a huge factor in gamer fulfillment. While we may not be able to master our workplace hierarchy, overbearing (non-loot containing) bosses, and anti-co-worker dating policies, we can finish fulfilling those needs through games. That makes sense to us, but maybe isn’t so obvious for people outside the gaming community. In a way, it’s similar to why some people prefer to watch sports than play them: SDT indicates that simply understanding the plays and being able to predict what happens may be good enough to satisfy their psychological needs, and being with other people who think this way helps with relatedness.

Smart Social Gamers shouldn’t be seen as a one-stop site for “fixing” a crotchety grandparent’s opinion on your “waste of time” hobby, though. Not all the articles are written by researchers. Some come off as gaming PR rather than articles that look at both the positive and the negative aspects of gaming (though not all of them; Kowert herself covers sexual harassment in online games and Dr. Richard Graham talks about game time balance). However, unlike the full journal articles we tend to cover on MassivelyOP, Smart Social Gamers’ articles are quite short and written mainly for non-gamers. While Kowert’s suggestion to ease people into social games by starting them on mobile games may ruffle the feathers of your average MMO player, it does highlight the rift between core gamers and those still trying to “figure out” our hobby.


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Sally Bowls

Interesting. Thx!

I do question the “NON-GAMERS” in the title. Reading sites and social media, I don’t think many gamers understand why people game (or consumer behavior or business …) How many times have I read that everyone prefers challenging content or nobody likes lockboxes or mobile or other things that are not true. So many times the belief is “gamers want” when in fact it is “I want.” The more hardcore the “core gamer” is, the less well they reflect the average gamer in popular titles. In my experience, they frequently / sometimes misunderstand the average gamer.

IMO, it would be at least as valuable if more gamers understood why the gaming populace games.

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An excellent point and one that also reminds me how everyone, from game companies to journalists to players themselves, could use more research based on sound data collection techniques (i.e., not forums and chat) and good modeling. After nearly two decades in the consumer research industry I can say with confidence that a) people don’t always mean what they say but b) what they say is predictive of what they mean and of their behavior. Gather enough data on intentions, validate it against actual behavior, and model the outcomes, then repeat and refine until confidence intervals are good enough to use.

Consumer research has been doing this for decades on the shelf (and now, online) and it’s big business. Sadly, few publishers and developers have the interest or budget for such things, and third-party providers (which are everywhere for consumer and media research) have been slow to penetrate the gaming industry. It’s happening, from what I can see, but it’s focused on driving sales through on marketing effectiveness rather than on customer experience.

Finally, while we’re talking, I’d like to thank you for what you bring to MOP, Sally Bowls. Your comments are canny and often present a contrary perspective that creates discussion and thought. I always stop to read them.


Nice Atari 2600 pic. You trying to make me feel old?


Interesting. I haven’t read any of the articles yet, but I will. Thanks Andrew.

One general point I’d like to make before I do. Many outside the gaming circles consider games a waste of time or an entertainment activity much like watching TV, of little value. Stereotypes have evolved and now many non-gamers believe they know who gamers are. The internet has had a hand in creating that stereotype as well.

I believe gaming to be, like any other hobby, fulfilling whatever a person may need. Like other hobbies, gaming can be gratifying, satisfying, a way to socialize, and a way to achieve. *insert what ever you are looking for here*

Yet other hobbies don’t have the negative stigma gaming has. I have more hobbies than most, and when I’m out on my motorcycle with my friends, or obsessing over fantasy football, or at a vintage car show etc. etc. nobody thinks I’m wasting my time or doing some not worthy of being entertaining. But when I take some time to relax and enjoy computer games they do.

Am I alone in thinking this way? Often things are a matter of perspective, but it seems to me computer games are still an outsider, so to speak, when they are clearly a norm with an intrinsic value that does not need to be justified.

Anyway… thanks for listening. Better than therapy, this place. Lol

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a recent meme that’s surfaced on teh big gaming subreddits is how “any game is funner with friends” in a way that implies that this is criticism of games they don’t like. like somehow multiplayer games that are fun with friends are lesser for it.

from their confusion at wildland’s chart topping sales at launch to their frustration and whining about gtao gtting regular updates while rockstar refuses to produce singleplayer dlc(which the answer there is not only found in rockstar’s incredible shark card sales, but the fact they had alot of regrets about gta4’s dlc’s which sold incredibly poorly and weren’t at all cost effective).

that often when approaching multiplayer experiences aimed at groups of friends these people tend to go in solo and not attempt to find like minded people to play with only accerbates their negative expreiences (the years old meme about heists in gtao for example), but defines their preceonptions that coop/multiplayer is evil and game companies should stop doing it at all.

wrt this article sometimes i’d rather chill and chat with my online gaming friends then go through the hassle and pressures of actually gaming. ofc there’s always the provison for gaming on the table but sometimes you just wanna chill have a few drinks and laughs without worrying about aiming or surviving. lol